University of Edinburgh

Sex Education in Scotland

by Issy Cole-Hamilton
RNIB Children's Policy Oficer, RNIB London

Presentation to Conference: Sex Education for Children and Young People with Visual Impairment including those with Multiple Disabilities, Tuesday 11th March 1997 The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

1 Introduction

This presentation will give a general view of sex education in Scotland and why it is important to address the issue in every school where their are blind and partially sighted, whatever their levels of ability. It will look specifically at legislation and guidelines for sex education in Scotland and discuss the importance of developing sex education policies and programmes. It will also touch briefly on the work Royal National Institute for the Blind intends to do to follow-up the work undertaken to produce the book Sex education for visually impaired children with additional disabilities.

The term sex education means many things to many people. For the purposes of this presentation I am including a wide range of subject areas which cover biology, relationships, respect for self and others, social skills and behaviour, personal care and hygiene and protecting oneself and others.

Sex education is important for all children and young people to help increase their awareness of their own physical and emotional development; to help learn as much as is possible about different types of relationships and responsibilities.; to aid their ability to take part in society; to support parents and staff in accepting a young person's physical and sexual development and for their own protection and that of others.

2 Sex Education in Scotland

Like other areas of the curriculum sex education is not mandatory in Scotland. Education authorities and schools have to make their own decision about what is taught and at what age. However, guidance does exists. This includes the following:

Education (Scotland) Act 1980, Section 28 - (Education should be provided in accordance with the wishes of parents).

A framework in Scottish Office Curriculum Guidelines 5 - 14:

  • Environmental studies
  • Personal and social development
  • Religious and moral education.
  • Promoting Good Health (1990) SCCC/SHEG.
  • Education Authorities' policy on health education.
  • Personal Relationships and Developing Sexuality - University of Strathclyde.
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In England and Wales each school must have a written policy and sex education is mandatory in secondary schools. The curriculum guidance in Scotland is clear that all pupils, whatever their ability, are entitled to receive the recommended curriculum.

For example: The Environmental Studies 5 - 14 curriculum states:

All pupils should have the opportunity to participate in, and learn from, the full range of experiences offered by the curriculum for Environmental Studies. The key to full exploitation [of the Guidelines] will lie in the careful matching of learning activities to pupils needs and interests.

Pupils with visual impairments may need specialised materials and approaches to access text and special support to carry out practical activities. Clarity of illustrations will be particularly important and some pupils will need tactile diagrams

Those pupils with moderate learning difficulties will progress more slowly and the task for the teacher will be to provide a curriculum which ensures progression through appropriate levels in Environmental Studies, whilst at the same time providing experiences which are appropriate to the pupil's age.

The Environmental Studies programme for pupils with severe learning difficulties will be most usefully linked to their Personal and Social Development Needs.

and the Personal and social development 5-14 curriculum states that:

All pupils should have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the full range of experiences offered in the are of personal and social development.

For many pupils with special educational needs the area of personal and social development is crucially important in its emphasis on helping to develop life skills.

All pupils should be given opportunities to realise their full potential, using materials and resources at the school's disposal.

A useful resource, which contains an access curriculum for children with learning disabilities is the teachers pack Personal Relationships and Developing Sexuality, produced by the University of Strathclyde. This proposes that sex education can be part of a number of different areas of work including:

In primary schools:

  • Environmental Studies and English Language curricula
  • topic studies, eg, family and neighbourhood
  • opportunistic, eg, response to media story
  • special focus study
  • informal curriculum, eg, residential experiences
  • general ethos of school
  • and in secondary schools
  • taught social education or health education programme
  • as part of science, physical education, drama etc
  • informal curriculum including residential experiences
  • general ethos of school.
In all schools liaison between staff involved is essential

Although the law in relation to sex education is not always there is other relevant legislation and guidance including information on contraception, confidentiality, child protection, offences against girls, offences against boys and homosexuality. The University of Strathclyde pack provides useful information on these issues.

3. Sex education policies and programmes

Having a sex education policy is important both for the process and for the outcome. For example:
  • it emphasises the importance of sex education
  • it is good practice to have a written policy
  • ensures the school is openly accountable
  • gives clear, unambiguous guidelines
  • protects staff
  • makes a public statement about the values and ethos
  • explains how the needs of pupils, parents, staff and the wider community are met
  • shows how consultation has taken place
  • clarifies how sex education programmes in the school reinforce other school policies
  • identifies clearly the specific issues of relevance to the children
  • publicly states the overall aims and objectives
  • gives an indication of the information a child receives
  • describes the methods used
  • clarifies for parents how they can - and will - be involved
  • ensures that all those who are interested are able to see a copy
  • makes a public commitment to regular monitoring and review.

There are a number of key stages involved in the development of a sex education policy which are outlined below.

Stage 1: Assessing commitment

Make sure all those involved eg school staff, board members, parents are:

  1. Familiar with the curriculum and other guidance education policy
  2. convinced of the positive value of sex education for the children and young people in the school
  3. convinced of the value of having a clear, written, widely-agreed sex education policy statement.

Stage 2: Getting organised

  1. clarify how those involved will work together
  2. Identify a key person to take the lead
  3. develop a common understanding of what you are trying to achieve
  4. develop a plan for preparing staff, parents, board members and school contacts for their involvement
  5. set a timetable for policy development and implementation
  6. clarify how parents will be involved and informed.

Stage 3: Collecting the relevant information

You will need to be very clear about the following:

  • the moral and values framework
  • what you hope to achieve with the policy
  • current policy and practice
  • pupils' needs
  • staff needs
  • the needs of the wider community
  • specific issues for your school
  • agreeing the aims and objectives of sex education programmes
  • deciding on the content of sex education.
  • Some of the specific issues of relevance to your school might include:
  • respect for children's rights
  • the use of Individual learning programmes
  • the need for a common language
  • links with the school's child protection policy
  • adaptation of teaching methods and messages to meet particular needs of children and young people with impaired vision
  • adaptation of teaching methods and messages to meet the additional needs of visually impaired children and young people with more complex needs including learning disabilities
  • teaching about different types of relationship
  • visitors to the school
  • preparation for puberty and menstruation
  • teaching about sexual urges, attractions and behaviour
  • contraceptive information and referrals
  • confidentiality HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Stage 4: Agreeing the organisation and methods of sex education

This section of the policy needs to identify:

  • the name of the sex education coordinator
  • whether or not different individuals may be responsible for coordinating the sex education program me for different children
  • who is responsible for teaching: this may well be a number of people and may depend on who works most closely with each child
  • training provision for all those involved
  • an outline of the teaching methods and resources to be used
  • details of how explanations of sensitive and controversial matters will be handled
  • specific arrangements such as individual programmes and single sex classes
  • the role of outside 'visitors', how they are familiarised with the policy and school ethos and how their expertise is used by the school
  • liaison between schools when children move from primary to secondary and secondary to further education
  • liaison with parents.

Stage 5: Writing the policy

Writing the first draft; consulting on the draft policy; redrafting the policy; producing a summary for parents.

Stage 6: Making the policy work

Telling people about the policy; preparing and training staff; developing clear guidelines for implementing the policy; monitoring and reviewing the policy.

There are a number of resources which might be helpful in discussing and developing a school sex education policy including:

Developing and Reviewing a School Sex Education Policy: a positive strategy, Sex Education Forum, National Children's Bureau, London EC1V TOE (7.50 members, 1 1.50 non-members)

Personal and Social Education for Children and Young People who are visually impaired, North West Support Services for the Visually Impaired, Shawgrove School, Manchester M20 1QB (5.00)

Religion, Ethnicity, Sex Education: exploring the issues, Sex Education Forum, National Children's Bureau, London ECIV TOE (10.50 members, 1 5.50 non-members plus 3.00 p+p)

Sexuality and Young People with Learning Difficulties - a booklet for parents and care/'s, The Special Needs Sexuality Project, Ladywell Leisure Centre, Lewisham High Street, London SE13 6NS, 0181-690 7438 (6.00 inc p+p)

Sex Education, Values and Morality, (1994) Health Education Authority

Discussion paper on spiritual and moral development, National Curriculum Council (1993) available from School Curriculum and Assessment Authority

Religion, Ethnicity, Sex Education: exploring the issues, (1993) Sex Education Forum

NSPCC, Abuse and Children who are Disabled (1993)

Two useful resources may be AIDS and People with Learning Difficulties: guidelines for staff and carers and AIDS and People with Learning Difficulties: a guide for parents from the British Institute of Mental Handicap.

The aims and objectives of sex education for the children and young people must also be clear. Some examples are given below. Children and young people of all abilities and ages need to be provided with:

  • appropriate information which is clear, honest and straightforward;
  • a safe, tactile environment;
  • opportunities to develop the ability to communicate choices;
  • people who understand their means of communication;
  • advocacy or support in putting forward their own view;
  • appropriate facilities and equipment which meet their needs;
  • people they can trust and who trust them;
  • respectful, empathetic contact with adults;
  • consistency in the behaviour of adults in specific situations;
  • privacy, confidentiality and personal space;
  • time and patience;
  • access to specialist workers.

Some aims will be related more specifically to the child or young person's physical development and learning ability. For example: babies and toddlers; young children; children beginning to develop sexually and sexually mature young people are likely to be at similar levels of sexual development but at each stage of physical development there may be a wide range of learning ability. Other speakers will be addressing these issues more specifically but the range of pupil's learning needs might include, for example:

a) Building self confidence and self esteem
b) Developing communication skills
c) Understanding different types of relationships
d) Learning to differentiate between fantasy and reality
e) Socially acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviours
f) Learning about menstruation and managing periods.

4. RNIB follow-up

Following our work on sex education policies and programmes we are developing a resources list of use to children visually impaired and young people and their teachers. This includes models, videos, audio tapes and braille and large print resources. We are also investigating the possibility of working with the BBC to develop audio-description for videos in common usage. Finally we hope to develop our work on teaching sex education to children and young people with complex disabilities by working with teachers and care workers to establish examples of good practice and disseminate these widely.